Haakenson: Paddle out to raise funds for 8-year-old cancer victim

Al Merrick has shaped surfboards for some of the best surfers in the world and is considered by many the best shaper in the world.

But he holds another title that is more important than any other: grandpa.

Merrick is the grandfather of Daisy Love Merrick, and this Saturday the surfing world will come out to show their support for her.

Daisy, who is 8, is facing cancer for the third time. Friends of the Merrick family, led by Christian Surfers U.S., have helped organize Paddle for Daisy, an international event to help raise money for Daisy's treatment.

Daisy is facing chemotherapy and possibly a stem-cell transplant as part of her therapy in the U.S. and Israel that is both traditional and progressive. The family is looking at medical bills in the area of half a million dollars not covered by insurance.

At 9 a.m. Saturday on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier, a "paddle-a-thon" will be held to raise awareness and support for Daisy. The Huntington Beach location is just one of dozens that will be taking place simultaneously around the world.

The other locations locally include the Newport Beach Pier, the San Clemente Pier and the Oceanside Pier. In all, there will be 13 California locations, three Hawaii locations, and dozens of others from the Northeast U.S. down to Florida and the Gulf Coast. There even is a location on a lake in Minnesota, and another location in Bali.

In Huntington, the plan is to either paddle around the pier, or to the end of the pier and back, depending on the surf conditions. There will also be a prayer for Daisy and breakfast served to those who participate in the paddle.

"It's bringing together people from all walks of life who have a common thread that runs through them," said Brian Edwards of Christian Surfers Huntington Beach. "And that thread is the sport of surfing, or shaping boards, or anything in the surf industry. Whatever the common thread is, it might be cancer itself, people who have struggled with it or are facing it right now."

For Daisy, the struggle began three years ago, when she had just started kindergarten. She fell down at school on the playground, which wasn't so unusual. But what was strange was that she told school staff that she needed to go to the hospital.

Daisy's parents took her to the hospital, where they looked for internal injuries. Instead, they found a tumor the size of a Nerf football in her abdominal cavity. She had a kidney removed during the surgery and then underwent extensive chemo and radiation treatments and eventually was deemed cancer free.

Not long after a trip to Hawaii with her family to celebrate, Daisy started complaining of stomach pain and it was soon discovered the cancer had returned. She faced two more surgeries to remove a tumor the size of a grapefruit.

After the treatments, Daisy resumed the life of a normal 7-year-old, but during a routine scan, cancer was found for the third time. In April, she had surgery to remove a tumor the size of a golf ball, and her spleen was also removed.

Daisy is now facing more treatments, which is why she and Al are in Israel now. And the surfing world has come together to help. In fact, it was a story in Transworld Surf Magazine that helped spread the word of Daisy's plight.

"From that, everybody in the surf industry had gotten word of it," Edwards said. "In that first hour it was up on the (Transworld) website, somebody, I'm not even sure who it was — I think a tile company in Orange County — donated $80,000."

The idea of the paddle out first came from Dean Plumlee, the national director of Christian Surfers U.S. Since Christian Surfers is a registered 501(c)(3), all donations could be tax-deductible.

"The vision to do this was launched by Dean Plumlee," Edwards said. "But that's all we wanted. We didn't want to brand Christian Surfers, we didn't want it to be a Christian Surfers thing. We just wanted to help people to do their own thing. If somebody wanted to bring groups out and call it the Hurley Paddle, fine. The goal was to raise funds for Daisy."

For more information on the event or how to donate, go to http://www.paddlefordaisy.com.

JOE HAAKENSON is an Orange County-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at joe@juvecreative.com.

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